It's Elementary!

by Jamie Forrest

Reflections on Dei and Weenie March 19, 2011

Filed under: Class reflections,Opinion pieces — Jamie @ 4:43 pm

This post is inspired by two articles I read for my university class:

  • Dei, G. S. (2003). Schooling and the dilemma of youth disengagement. McGill Journal of Education, 38(2), 241-256.
  • Weenie, A. (2008). Curricular theorizing from the periphery. Curriculum Inquiry, 38(5), 545-557.

 

 

    Initially when I read these articles, I was just left with a bunch of questions and self-doubt. Perhaps I was reading these articles in a very negative frame of mind, but there were my initial reactions…

  • How much are we expected to adapt to the many differences in our classrooms?
    • I did my internship in a community where many of the students were bussed in from First Nations reserves around the city. This community placed different values on “time” and the written word than our school system does. We function by a bell system where we have to be at a certain place at a certain time. Most of our assessments (in high school especially) are based on what the students can produce and share through the written word. (exams, assignments, etc.) Given that is the way our school system is built, right or wrong, how much should be change our expectations to accommodate the students who have different sets of values?
  • What about parents who don’t want to share?
    • Both of these articles talked about including the family and valuing their histories in order to essentially value the students. However, I have several families this year who came to Canada, either through choice or necessity, who do not want to celebrate their cultural stories. They want to assimilate and become as “Canadian” as possible. How far do we push this and encourage this to not alienate these families and create the opposite effect?
  • What about preparing the students for a future in the Canadian business/professional world?
    • While reading these articles that placed emphasis on the individualization of instruction and on incorporating as much as possible the students’ cultures and value systems, I just kept wondering if we are not, to a certain extent, setting our kids up for failure once they leave the school system. Once in the business world, employers don’t care whether your cultural background values time or not, they just want you to show up at work on time. They don’t care what you eat for dinner each day, they just want the work done. They don’t care if you are tired and weak because you are celebrating Ramadan; they need you to do the job you were hired for. I realize that I am white, middle class, and have experienced absolutely no form of racism, EVER, in my life, so I know that I am bringing my own backpack of values and beliefs (that happen to mesh well with the business world), but at the same time, the business world is the way that it is, isn’t it?
  • How is a teacher supposed to know all the cultural nuances if there are many different cultures in the classroom, especially is parents and students don’t share? Where are teachers supposed to find this knowledge?
    • Contrary to the recent movement in the United States, teachers are not, nor can they be expected to be Super Heroes. We have lives of our own outside the school, families, our own educations, friends, etc. We cannot possibly spend all the time required to learn about all the different cultural backgrounds, histories, languages, values and beliefs of all the students we encounter on a daily basis. We have no one in our school systems to help us learn. I try to learn from my students, but most of them don’t know their own family stories and parents are not always willing to share these stories either. I would like to know more, do more, but how?

 

After listening to the discussion we had at the last class during the round table, I had some new perspectives.

  • Sometimes we talk too much. Incorporating students’ stories, cultures, values and beliefs might be as simple as shutting up and listening once in a while.
  • Even if I can give just one student a place to be safe and share their stories, I am doing my job.
  • Allowing students to share their stories, regardless of background, or whether the stories are “culturally” based or not, empowers the students and allows them to share THEIR stories. It makes them feel important and valued.
  • Curriculum is life. A student’s life is their curriculum to this point. It is important to value their curriculum.
  • Students as curriculum makers… We need to start where the students are and go from there.
  • With younger students, we can get them to tell their own stories through a literacy program… “Buffalo Books” from Frankie…

 

Then since last week, I have also done a bit of reflection and done a bit more research…

  • I realized that in many of my initial comments, I made some pretty broad assumptions that again come from my own personal values and beliefs… For example, when I was talking about the Canadian business world, I made a bit assumption that being a part of that world would be everyone’s goal. This is surely not the case, even though that is what I might value. I realize that this is what I would want for my own children, but that it is part of a value system that I will be choosing to continue in my family. That does not mean that everyone in Canada believes or wants the same things as me. I have a very hard time accepting when people’s values don’t mix with mine. This is often where I run into problems in my daily life as a classroom teacher. I think that everyone should value getting an education and get very very frustrated when I ask parents to do certain things with their children and they don’t value the school system enough to do them. I find myself making snap judgments about them: “Don’t they care about their kids?” I need to remember to take a step back and realize that one thing likely has nothing to do with the other.
  • I was on Facebook this week (of all places) and somebody posted this video. It is another RSA Animate video. This time is highlight’s Jeremy Rifkin’s talk about the evolution of empathy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g What really struck me about this video initially was the part where he talks about the evolution of a child’s story. This video really made a deep connection for me with these two articles. It took the reflection and their meaning to a much broader space than the initial readings. It became less of the individual cultures that I have in my classroom and more about just dealing with my students and with people in general with more empathy. If we were to do that as teachers and as a society, we would not have to worry so much about the individual nuances that I struggled with throughout this reflection.
 

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